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So you’ve been visited by a Florida Black Bear?  Now what?  First, The Florida Black Bear, Ursus Negros Americanus, is a sub-genus of the more aggressive Northern Black Bear, and is currently a state listed “threatened” species, protected by Florida law and by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, (FWC).  There are significant legal penalties for harassing, injuring or killing a Florida Black Bear, including significant legal fines for directly or indirectly feeding bears.  

You should know that in more than one-hundred years of record keeping, there has never been an incident of significant human injury by a Florida Black Bear.   Other stories about bears attacking and eating pets, farm animals, etc., are often exaggerations or just plain fabrications.  In fact, though the Black Bear is omnivorous, it eats very little meat, often limiting its intake to small carrion, etc.  

Contrary to the belief of some, cats, dogs, pigs, goats, horses, and other animals larger than rabbits and squirrels are not a typical part of the Black Bear diet.  That said, the danger of coming into close contact with any large mammal in the wild should not be treated casually.  Any wild animal will defend itself if it feels threatened.  NEVER initiate contact with a Black Bear.

The Florida Black Bear is a far less aggressive sub-genus than other northern Black bear species, and it is easily habituated by humans, quickly losing its fear of humans, often resulting in destruction of the habituated bear.

There are a number of primary reasons that we are seeing more frequent visits by bears to neighborhoods contiguous to their natural habitats.  Bears in the wild are naturally reclusive, and do not seek out human contact.  In fact, they fear humans, and since humans are not a direct food source, they do everything they can to avoid us. 

 Bears have excellent memory capacity, and they will return to forage areas that previously provided an ample food source.  Unfortunately, over-development, segmentation of habitat by development and roads, off-road vehicle use, deforestation, controlled burning, tree harvesting and planting, etc., often force the Black bear to seek out forage areas outside their normal feeding ranges.

Most contacts with a Florida bear are opportunistic feeding episodes, whereby the bear finds an ample food source on your property, memorizes the area, and frequently returns to feed, as part of their newly adopted feeding pattern.  Remember, the bear has an excellent memory, and will continue to return as long as there is a food source.  Remember, I said humans are not a direct food source, but we are often indirect sources, often without realizing it.  So what kinds of food will attract the bears?

Like most of us, bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat a wide variety of both meats and botanicals.  Under the right circumstances, a Florida bear will eat just about anything we will.   Bears love birdseed, nuts, grains, corn kernels, sugar-water and honey.  Unfortunately, that means that if your property is contiguous to Black Bear habitat, you may have to forego the installation of bird or squirrel feeders on your property.  These are a natural attractant that will habituate a bear and keep him returning for weeks, even after the feeders are removed.  Don’t think that you can outsmart a bear by placing feeder in hard to access places.  Bears, despite their large size, are extremely agile.  The only way to keep bears away from feeders and food is to remove them.

Even more alluring to a rogue bear is the scent of human refuse.  Bears have excellent olfactory senses and can smell food in human garbage for more than half a mile.  Readily available access to our garbage is the number one reason that bears visit out neighborhoods.   Once a bear finds an available garbage/forage source, it commits that source to memory and will return over and over to the area to forage, until the availability ceases, and often for weeks beyond.  Rest assured that the visits will eventually stop when the bear is convinced that the food source no longer exists.  Bear-proof trash receptacles, storing garbage in closed garages or barns, or within secure enclosures, and disposing of it as often as possible is the best way to mitigate for this form of opportunistic feeding.

The second most likely attractant is pet food.  When we feed our pets outdoors, we invite the bears to sample the leftovers, or to at least visit the area to look for those leftovers.  If they find remnants of pet food they will memorize the spot and return to it until the source ceases, possibly weeks beyond.  Screened porches are not an acceptable enclosure to keep bears from getting to pet food.  Bears are very powerful, and a screen or a screen door is not a deterrent, and damages to one or both account for the majority of reports of property damage by Florida Black bears, with trash receptacle damage a close second.

As you can see, the most important thing we need to do is to avoid attracting bears to our property.  Agricultural issues, access to bee hives, produce of the vine, etc., is often mitigated for by ample fencing.  It’s more complicated for homeowners who must always be sure that they do not leave anything that a bear might consider to be food in any area accessible by a bear.

1.Dispose of your garbage as often as possible.  If you get curbside pickup, don’t put the garbage out until it is time for it to be collected, and if you do, use a bear-proof container.  If you carry your garbage to a collection area, do it often, and store it in areas not accessible to bears, such as a closed garage or barn.
2.Don’t feed pets outside or on porches, and if you have an outside dog that can’t be fed inside, be sure to pick up any leftovers immediately after feeding.
3.If you are contiguous to bear habitat, or if your property, or property to you has been visited by a bear, don’t install wildlife feeders of any kind.  If you have feeders installed, remove them and clean up any food remnants.
4.If you have livestock, don’t overfeed them, and be sure that all daily rations are completely consumed.  Placing organic lime on the ground near feeding areas will help hold down the smell of any remaining feed.
5.NEVER intentionally feed a Florida Black Bear, either directly or indirectly.  It is not only very dangerous, but it is also very illegal!  Once a bear is habituated it becomes a nuisance bear, if not to you, then to your neighbor, who may not be so keen on visits from a very large wild mammal.  If a complaint is called in about a roaming bear, it is generally responded to by an FWC employee, who is often forced to destroy the offending bear.  If you feed a Florida Black Bear, you are essentially signing its DEATH WARRANT!  Bears aren’t pets, and their viewing is best left to opportunities in the wild and on television.

Okay, we know what to do to prevent bears from visiting or from becoming habituated, but what do we do about the one that is already visiting?  First, we follow the previous guidelines to ensure that there are no remaining attractants.  Once we’ve done away with anything that might attract a bear, or that it might find and eat on our property, we need to stop them from visiting in the future.

No two situations are the same, but one thing that seems to work best is to dissuade a visit with loud noise from a distance.  One of the best means is the simple striking of a large pot with a kitchen utensil.  If you find a bear entering your property or yard, from a safe distance, simply make noise with a large pot and serving spoon, or similar items, and yell loudly at the bear until it leaves the property.   If in the very unlikely event that the bear comes toward you instead of leaving, go back in the house.  NEVER confront the bear.

It is important to note that it may be necessary to de-habituate the bear in the above manner for several days in a row, and each time it visits, to ensure that it will give up on the previous forage area and not return.  Be patient.
If you have additional questions or comments, please contact one of our wildlife expert s at 352-288-3228, or by E-Mail at MikeBowen@PawsFloridaChapter.com

Bears are very agile, often able to scale fences, feeder poles, clotheslines and other obstacles in order to reach available food.